As a new seminary student back in the late seventies, I hardly expected to receive contacts from local churches seeking to fill pastoral or staff vacancies. Being thirty years old with extensive business experience helped. But, still, beyond having served as a Sunday School teacher and deacon I was a newcomer to church work. So, it was a little surprising when the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary placement office called for an interview with a local church search committee. They gave me the pastor job description to study before the interview. It read something like this---
1. Preach two messages on Sunday, and one message on Wednesday.
2. Visit the sick.
3. Perform funerals (as needed).
4. Perform weddings (as needed).
5. Lead the youth group.
That was it. It was what a small, rural congregation expected of their pastor. They were mostly of the builder generational cohort, self-sufficient land owners, farmers, and local folk with need of spiritual guidance. The intersections of their community were relatively simple. The pastor had to preach, visit, and talk youth speak for the small group of grand children who attended, as well as perform the ordinances and special occasions of church life.
That was then, this is now. Today, even in that same type of congregation, the preparation and skill set would be vastly expanded. The population shifted and most of the people still living in that setting are professional people who've gone west young man. Preaching and visiting are still on the list, but the intersections have become more complicated. Now, the job description includes counseling, parent training, perhaps administration of a church staff, specializations of the local community, child development centers, recovery programs, a food pantry or homeless ministry, reading as a second language, VBS, and many other assignments unheard of in prior generations. The intersections are more complex now. As a result, their pastoral position description has ramped up somewhat.
But, maybe not. And, that's a problem. Many churches are attempting to navigate these crowded and complicated intersections with the same old, same old systems that cannot even anticipate them, much less lead a group of people through them. It must be one of the reasons so many---thought to be as many as 80% - 85%---of our churches are trending downward. They are seeking to minister is this sleek, fast world with the old mechanics that handled the intersections of life back then---you know, preach three times a week, visit the sick, do the weddings and funerals, and learn the current youth lingo.
One of the trends right now is the number of unprepared servants who are leading churches, especially church plants. Let's tiptoe through this one. I try not to be elitist in flaunting two seminary degrees on my personal resume. Nobody ever called me doctor and no one is all that impressed with the degrees anyway. Well, Maybe Harriet. She worked me through them. But, the times, they are still a-changing and people who are not adequately prepared through education, experience, or individual mentorship are not often ready to lead a church through these difficult intersections. The other day I asked a young pastor about his counseling ministry. He admitted it was tough. He read a book about it and it wasn't enough for the grueling ministry he was experiencing every day.
There's a side-bar in this thing too. As many as 1,700 pastors walk away from ministry assignments and calling every month. Often it is because they are frustrated that the model of ministry they must follow in their church is insufficient for the demands of these times. They are so often over-whelmed by the requirements of their ministry assignment. Even more, it's a systemic malfunction, evident at every layer of denominational life, church, association, state convention, and denomination. It's like using the old driver's ed material to prepare drivers for today's speedways. It was good then, but not so efficient now.
Give me some Biblical guidance to influence how the church must adjust to quickly changing environments and, in this metaphor, the rapidly changing dynamics intersecting faith and life. Of course, there's the wineskins teaching of Jesus. The fresh new wine must be contained in new wineskins (see Luke 5:37-39). It's really applicable here. But, even more, check out the ministry to the Gentiles in Acts 10-12. The intersections changed, multiplied, as the Gospel was opened to the people of Peter's vision. The apostles and followers of Jesus had to change their traffic patterns. It was a radical, massive shift in their handling of the Good News. Their intersections became more complicated and fast. Luke wrote it down,
When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God saying, "Then
to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life"
Acts 11:18 (ESV)
Everything changed. And, they adjusted with the changes. And, that's where we are today. Navigating this new world will be accomplished only by people who are called and equipped to do it.
I remember getting my learner's permit. Fifteen days later, at age 14, I took the driving test for what was called the "6 till 6 License", a license that allowed me to drive anywhere without an adult passenger between 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. We had to learn hand signals (look it up) for navigating the roadways and intersections, as well as how to drive a manual shift automobile. Can you imagine? But, it was sufficient for handling the roadways of the 1960's. They wouldn't mean much today.
And, that's the deal. We must be prepared to negotiate the complicated, fast intersections and interchanges of modern America. Or, the church will be left behind. Ummm, the church has been left behind.
Isaiah 43:19. Look it up.